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Engaging with Your Employees

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In recent columns, we’ve talked a lot about employee engagement and the benefits to the employee, the employer and the company when we achieve high levels of engagement. We’ve learned that employees want to work in an engaging environment and will quickly leave poor workplaces. Recently, there have been numerous instances of high-profile companies that lost their way when it came to sustaining a trusting culture. The bank I use made headlines when it came to light that they incentivize employees to grow the number of deposit accounts, and the leaders of those employees came up with a scheme to open new accounts on behalf of existing customers without the knowledge or approval of the customer. Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with incentivizing people who hit goals, but what does it say about the existing culture of that banking division that unscrupulous behavior was not only encouraged, but was actually handsomely rewarded financially? How would you like to be an employee in that division?

What about us “low-profile” people in the collision repair industry? Do we have the opportunity to create highly engaged teams of people in our shops? Of course we do and of course we must. There is a war on talent that exists today and if we are not on the front lines of the battles for obtaining and retaining talent, we are going to become irrelevant very quickly. I have shared many of the tools I have learned to use for creating trust and engagement. I trust that you have practiced the use of these tools and I would love to hear your feedback on how they are working for you.

So, back to our drivers of engagement. Let me submit several behaviors you can deploy that support the drivers. I’ve learned these from Malcolm Gladwell, Patrick Lencioni, and Kevin Wolfe to name a few.

Here they are:

  1. Tell the truth.

  2. Encourage people to speak truth to power.

  3. Reward contrarians.

  4. Set information free.

  5. Diversify your sources of information.

  6. Admit your mistakes.

  7. Build organizational support for transparency.

  8. Practice having difficult conversations.

So let’s go over some of these today and the rest in my next column.

Telling the truth might seem to be an obvious foundation for building trust, but in today’s society, I find truth telling to be a much more rare commodity than a decade ago. Leaders must tell the truth consistently, resolutely and with compassion in order to build trust. Leaders who are passive and complacent about the truth are viewed by employees as weak and enabling. Leaders who are aggressive and reactive with the truth will debilitate team members and demolish trust. Telling the truth extends to your actions, as well. If what you say is contradicted by what you do, you are lying to yourself and everyone you tell it to. As an industry, I want to believe that we are well past the days of work billed but not performed; unfortunately, I fear that these behaviors are still going on. Employees watch what we say and do, and then decide if we are truthful and trustworthy.

Encouraging people to speak truth to power means any employee in any position can speak directly to a supervisor, manager or owner about anything that might be troubling them without fear of retribution or rejection. This will develop when you have created a culture of emotional safety for everyone. In my company, even the owners believe it’s OK for an employee to point out behaviors and words that are contrary to our core values. We believe that direct conversations are extremely valuable to building a culture of trust and we’d rather hear directly from employees about their observations or concerns, rather than hear things “through the grapevine” because people fear the consequences of telling the truth.

Rewarding contrarians seems counter-intuitive at first, but don’t think of contrarians as naysayers. Think of them as people with a different point of view. Approach contrarians with a beginner’s mind; remember that in a beginner’s mind there are many options, but in the mind of an expert, there are few. Thank the contrarians for disagreeing and ask them to elaborate on their ideas. It’s very possible that our default decisions are wrong and there could be value in the ideas of others. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing. The contrarians of today are the ones who predicted autonomous driving vehicles, ride-hailing services, connected cars and many other innovations that most of us didn’t consider even two or three years ago. In my mind, we must welcome the contrarian point of view just in case they are right.


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